to win tournaments for myself.” However, after Europe had won at Celtic Manor, with Rory contributing two points out of the four he contested, he revised his opinion with a joke. “It’s the best exhibition in the world!” he declared to cheers from his teammates. McIlroy and Poulter were fourball partners in that match on the second day of the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. After Rory had won the 13th with a birdie, Poulter birdied the last five holes to beat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
The next morning, McIlroy almost missed his tee-time for his singles because he’d been looking at the clock on Golf Channel, which was on Eastern Time whereas Chicago is on Central Time. The PGA of America arranged a police escort to get him to the church… sorry, the course on time. Among his helpers was Ms Stoll, the young lady who is set to become Mrs McIlroy. On the day McIlroy met his match he saw off Keegan Bradley 2&1. At Gleneagles in 2014, he earned two points from four before demolishing Rickie Fowler in the singles.
Going into the matches at Hazeltine, McIlroy had the week beforehand won the Tour Championship, the final event on the PGA Tour, with a closing 64, and thus claimed the FedEx Cup. Predictably ridden hard by captain Darren Clarke, he earned three points out of four over the first two days. In his pivotal singles match against Patrick Reed, however, he came up against a man inspired. At times the golf was preposterous. In a four-hole stretch
from the 5th they were a combined total of nine-under par. Reed beat him on 18 and the USA won the Ryder Cup – for the first time since 2008 and for the first time with McIlroy on the European team.
A life lived on Twitter
Like many celebrities, McIlroy prefers to connect directly with his fans on Twitter than via set-piece interviews. At the 2010 Dubai World Championship, Ian Poulter effectively lost his play-off with Robert Karlsson when he incurred a one-shot penalty after dropping his ball on the marker he’d placed on the green. McIlroy tweeted: ‘Poults may not have won the Dubai World Championship, but he could be in with a shout for tiddlywinks world championship!’ In December, a fan asked Rory why he didn’t wear a cap at the Ryder Cup. McIlroy replied, ‘I’ve a pea head and the hats were way too big for me!’ No big-headedness there!
Back to those 2011 tweets with Poulter. Barcelona won that Champions League final but in the media centre after his US
Open win the following month, McIlroy took a photo of the press pack with the trophy in the foreground so he could put it on Twitter. “I’ve waited all week to do this,” he explained gleefully. In the American digital magazine, Golf World, Ron Sirak wrote: “In nearly 15 years as a pro, nothing close to that spontaneous ever occurred with Tiger Woods.”
McIlroy was the first golfer to be billed as ‘the next Tiger Woods’. He’s not that good but he knows his place and he’s proud of it. At the Open last summer, he was reminded that he hadn’t won a major for two years while Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson had and were catching up on him. “Yes,” he answered. “I’m pleased they’ve got their four majors and I’m pleased I’ve got my four.” Touché.
Unusually, for such an eminent sportsman, McIlroy is not ultra-competitive; the kind of athlete who might say something like: “I have to win at everything. I wouldn’t even let my 10-year-old beat me at table football.” McIlroy told Golf Digest: “I feel like I’ve developed a ruthless streak on the golf course… but I’ve no real ambition to be the best at anything else. If we’re playing cards, or a game of pool, I’d happily let someone win just to keep them happy.”
Just not on the golf course. In December, Paul McGinley, McIlroy’s Ryder Cup captain at Gleneagles, told The Times: “Rory is the most entertaining golfer in the world…
He’s got a bit of swagger about him; an arrogance.” The same month, Jack Nicklaus told the BBC’s Iain Carter. “Rory is one of those young men who has got a tremendous amount of talent [but] if he wishes to dominate and go forward, he’s got to improve. Certainly he has all the tools to be able to do it; it is just whether he has the desire and the willingness to give up some other things. Whatever Rory does he has established himself as one of the great players that has ever played the game.”
When Andy Murray won the BBC’s SPOTY award for the third time in December, there was some contemplation that he might be the UK’s greatest-ever athlete – this though at the time of writing he has three Grand Slams compared to McIlroy’s four majors. (It’s easier to leave Nick Faldo out of this.) OK, so McIlroy has double-bogeyed the Olympics while Murray is a double champion, but he’s been on three winning Ryder Cup teams versus one Davis Cup. McIlroy has an MBE. Murray recently became a knight.
McIlroy will be 28 in May, 11 days before Murray turns 30. The latter likely has four years left at the top. Rory could have 14. But what the Irishman needs soon is not a tap on the shoulder with a sword but a tap-in for a fifth major. Then a sixth. And then.